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Nursing Assistant students redefine experiential learning


A student learns to play goal ball, a ball game played by individuals with visual impairments.

When Antoinette Robinson began studying to become a nursing assistant at Green River, she pretty much knew what her job duties would be. She would be working in the healthcare field, helping patients with basic quality-of-life needs. She would assist nurses and doctors and - most importantly - help people every single day.

What surprised Robinson was learning something that hadn't yet occurred to her: discovering firsthand what her patients with disabilities think and feel.

NA Instructor Denise Saylor dedicates a whole day to disability awareness exercises. Her students use various props to simulate certain conditions, such as partial eyesight after a stroke, visual impairments and paralysis. They then perform everyday tasks: lacing a shoe, entering an elevator, throwing a ball.

"Walking outside without seeing made me feel afraid - alone," said Nursing Assistant student Bryan Parker. "This was a first-time experience for me and I felt scared. It really made me understand what they feel."

Even when they don't have the exact equipment used by future patients, Saylor uses her imagination and makes do with what she has. Partially blacked-out glasses lenses simulate the partial vision of a stroke survivor; students type with a pen instead of the actual mouth stick that a person with quadriplegia would use.

"These exercises teach the students how to communicate with their patients," explained Saylor. "They learn to understand how their patients will feel. We incorporate practical training like this into our instruction and our students are very well prepared for their jobs when they graduate."